The East Wind by Anthony Bruce by Anthony Bruce - Read Online

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From the cold rainforests of Western Canada to the searing heat of the Namib . . . A man marked by a bitter war; A woman lost between love and duty; A youth, arrogant, indulged, unable to understand that great wealth is no substitute for skill and courage; An ex-mercenary pilot trying to bury memories of a time when life was cheap. . . All caught in the maelstrom of the East Wind.

The East Wind deals with the effect of a dysfunctional family relationship and a brutal war on one man's journey through life. Alienated and disinherited by a cruel and abusive father, the eldest son of the wealthy and powerful head of a Canadian timber dynasty has survived three tours of duty as a Marine Combat Engineer in Vietnam. This man, after his service in Vietnam, is a self-contained and lonely individual who, as an international construction engineer, has made a life devoid of close human contact. While working on a Uranium mine project in the Namibian desert is visited by his nephew from Canada. The nephew, an unpleasant, undisciplined youth, causes a serious crisis and is ordered home by his uncle. The courage, loyalties and family ties of both men are savagely tested when the nephew is lost in the desert during the scorching annual phenomenon known locally as the "East Wind". When the uncle unexpectedly becomes involved with the wife of a colleague, he finds his own carefully-structured emotional defense mechanics are no longer adequate and he must deal with the death of a close friend, his nephew's criminal behaviour, and the conflict of loving someone he cannot have.

Excerpt:
. . . As yet he didn't feel thirsty, though his body had begun to give up precious fluid to keep his vital organs cool; dehydration had started and despite the heat he shivered. He tried to remember all that Kresfeld had said but only the frightening statistics came to mind.
. . . This was the Namib, the oldest desert on earth, known to the Bushmen, those tough hardy survivors from the Stone age, as the land God made in anger. Here time meant nothing. Here the incredible Welwitschia plant drawing water from the night mist had been dated to centuries before the birth of Christ. In the empty silence he could hear his own heartbeat. To hide the welling fear from himself he began to scream curses against the father who had placed him in this position and the uncle who had done nothing to prevent it happening. Not even an echo came back to mock him, for the desert didn't care. Men had died here before and if imprudent or unlucky would do so in future. Finally he fell silent, exhausted, and the tears came spilling over sunburnt cheeks to evaporate in the hot dry air. More precious liquid was lost and his body died a little more . . .

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Also by Anthony Bruce

FICTION

To Taunt A Wounded Tiger

A Lie To Comfort The Dying

The Gatekeeper of Lies

NON-FICTION

Railway Surveyors’ Handbook – Malawi.

THE EAST WIND

A novel by

Anthony Bruce

GLENDAMBO BOOKS

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission from the publisher, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.

Copyright © 1998 Anthony Bruce

Canadian Cataloguing in Publication Data

First printing 1998

Second printing, 2005, revised

Bruce, Anthony Alexander,

The East Wind

ISBN 0-9681787-1-5

1.Title.

PS8553.R72E27 1998 | C813'.54 | C98-910000-6

PR9199.3.B73E27 1998

A Glendambo Book

Published by: Glendambo Publishing

151 Saltair Lane

Salt Spring Island BC.

V8K 1Y5.

Canada.

Cover Design by Irwan Kurnaedy/The Alexandra Projects

Cover Photograph by Kathryn Oseen-Senda

Sossusvlei - Namibia 1996

Published in Canada

Table of Contents

Also by Anthony Bruce

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Epilogue

For: ELENA KATERINA MIA

With grateful thanks:

In Africa, to:

Rio Tinto Management Services and Rössing Uranium.

The people of Swakopmund, for their kindness and generosity to an ‘Uitlander.’

In Canada, to:

George and Barbara

Kathleen

Win

Caroline

Laura and Brian

Irwan.

In Britain, to:

Lady Gloria Lawrence

Andy Bruce.

This is a novel, a work of fiction to be read and enjoyed as such. The characters, incidents, and dialogues are a product of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any similarity to actual events or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.

DESERT: dez´ert, adj. deserted: desolate: uninhabited: uncultivated. -n. a desolate or barren tract: a waste: a solitude.

Prologue

Namib Desert – Colin – The beginning of the end

The boy had begun to die, unaware that his lifespan could now be measured in hours. For the first time an eddy of fear stirred in his belly. Again he stared over the shimmering stony plain to where the Chuosberge mountains stood blue in the distance. Nothing moved, except an eagle, a black speck circling aimlessly against the inverted vitreous bowl that stretched cloudlessly from horizon to horizon . . . .

As yet he didn’t feel very thirsty, though his body had begun to give up precious fluid to keep his vital organs cool; dehydration had started and, despite the heat, he shivered. A drop of perspiration rolled down his nose from the band of his safari hat. He tasted salt. Good, he thought. What had Kresfeld said? Something about while there was still salt in the sweat there was a chance. Wishing that he had taken more notice of the old German’s words, he tried to recall all that Kresfeld had said, but only the frightening statistics came to mind.

This was the Namib, the oldest desert on earth, known to the Bushmen—those tough hardy survivors from the Stone Age—as the land God made in anger. Here time meant nothing. Here the incredible Welwitschia plants, living fossils drawing moisture from the night mist, had been dated to centuries before the birth of Christ.

In the empty silence he could hear his own heartbeat. To hide the welling fear from himself, he began to scream curses against the father who had placed him in this position and the uncle who had done nothing to prevent it happening. Not even an echo came back to mock him, for the desert didn’t care. Men had died here before and, if imprudent or unlucky, would do so in future.

Finally he fell silent, exhausted, and the tears came spilling over sunburned cheeks to evaporate quickly in the hot dry air. More precious liquid was lost and his body died a little more.

Chapter 1

Canada – Beaver/Elk Lake – Bitter Memories

Rafa skipped another pebble across the lake, watching the ripples turn silver in the early morning light. Finally he turned, It was a long time ago Laura and, in any case, David should tell you the story. Have you asked him?

Several times, but all he says is that it’s in the past and he has no wish to open old wounds. The girl turned. Please Rafa . . . . Please. You know the whole story, even Batchi doesn’t know it all.

Rafa looked up and for a second saw Kate’s face in the child; he sucked his breath in sharply at the resemblance, feeling an icy clamp tighten around his heart. He turned away to hide the distress he felt. The girl, puzzled, watched his face but waited silently. She was used to waiting. Rafa looked at his watch. He sighed. Very well, I have time before my flight. As you know it was an accident, but accidents don’t just happen, usually they are the result of actions so minor that individually they are insignificant but collectively . . .

The Namib Desert.

. . . The Unimog growled along the canyon floor, its heavy duty, deep-ribbed tires alternately gripping and spinning in the sand and gravel of the dry river bed. The continual change in traction jerked the three men sitting side-by-side in the open driving compartment like puppets on a string. The driver, a young man in khaki work clothes, mumbled an apology to his companions.

Not your fault. The big man sitting next to the driver brushed a hand irritably across his massive black beard, forcing the myriad of flies to ascend, flies that were trying to drink the perspiration that trickled down his deeply tanned face and disappeared into and over the tangle of his beard. This bloody place would be hard on a hovercraft. Another jolt brought a grunt from all the occupants and the big man closed his hand on the arm of the driver.

Stop for a second, let Johnny have a look through the glasses.

The third man addressed as Johnny waited until the Unimog had stopped before climbing up onto the bench seat. He steadied himself with one hand on top of the windscreen while he swept the canyon ahead through high-powered binoculars for the object of their search. The other two waited, listless, the all-pervading heat sapping their energy so that even talk was an effort. A puff of wind blasted sand across the floor of the canyon and the big man spoke warningly.

You see that? The East Wind is coming, by tomorrow night it will be here in full strength so let’s find the bloody camp and get the hell out of here—any luck Johnny? He looked up at the black man dressed in the same worn khakis as his companions.

No Boss, but I think we are close. Remember, I was only here once last year.

The man with the beard grunted, I just wish those bloody geologists had picked up all their drillcore boxes before packing up last year. He brushed the flies away again. OK, we’ll give it another half hour then we’ll turn back. He turned to the driver.You want a break? Johnny or I can drive.

No, I’m fine . . . thanks. The driver, a much younger man than his companions, restarted the truck and they jolted forward.

The canyon walls reared up hundreds of feet on either side of the flat river bed they were traversing. Aeons ago water had roared down this valley from mountains far in the interior. Cutting deep through the softer layers on the plains above the water gouged out this awesome canyon. Then successive upheavals had shifted strata, forcing the river to cut and grind its way through new obstacles. Finally, long after the land had cooled and eroded into the Namib desert the hot dry winds had piled sand into the river bed. The only water now remaining ran several metres below the hard-packed sand and gravel the Unimog rode over. In some places the river bed was hundreds of metres wide but in others narrow enough to cause trouble. They negotiated the occasional tight curves in low gear, the Unimog growling in protest at the jagged rock sections that protruded across their path. For a while there was silence, the brooding sinister heights affected them all. This seemed a place of secrets, of old crimes and grim memories. Here no birds sang, and only the odd lizard glared balefully at the vehicle as they rumbled past. Finally, just as Blackbeard was about to call a halt, Johnny spoke loudly.

There . . . I see the camp . . . go to the left. The ‘camp’ was a misnomer. A year ago, a group of geologists had lived under canvas while they prospected the canyon. Later, a small drill rig had been brought in to test out likely looking rock formations and it was the abandoned drill core, left behind by the departed geologists that the three men had come to reclaim. The only indication that this flat, thorntree-studded area had ever hosted human life was a small pile of half-buried cans and debris. Still faintly visible were the raised rectangular outlines where the tents had been pegged down but it needed a keen eye to see even that much.

Ya, I see it . . . good work Johnny. Blackbeard wiped his face with a large handkerchief as he waited his turn to climb down the metal ladder from the cab.

Quickly, for the sun was past its zenith and they had a long way to return, the three men fanned out looking for the pile of core boxes that should be in the vicinity. Ten minutes later Johnny yelled and Blackbeard walked toward the rock face where Johnny stood. Each long flat box was divided into three longitudinal channels. Each channel contained a long tube of rock core approximately 5 cm in diameter. These were the drill cores recovered from the drill tube probing like a hypodermic needle into the granite skin of the canyon. The boxes were piled neatly on top of each other in three rows some four feet high but someone had thrown a dark brown tarpaulin over the pile and, with several inches of dust and windblown debris, they were almost impossible to find. Johnny had noticed a loose corner of the tarpaulin flapping in the occasional blasts of wind down the canyon. Together the two men pulled the tarpaulin free and, each shouldering a box, they walked over to where the Unimog stood waiting,

Ivan can climb up on the back and we’ll pass the boxes up to him . . . where is he Johnny? Blackbeard glanced around, puzzled.

I haven’t seen him since we stopped Boss; I thought he was with you.

IVAN Blackbeard yelled loudly, IVAN, COME BACK TO THE TRUCK. Both men listened intently but the rising moan of wind muffled any answering shout. Uh-Oh, Blackbeard growled, Where the Hell can the bugger be? He stared at his black companion uneasily, Come on, let’s look for him, he must’ve gone round the corner.

The river bed made a sharp turn about a hundred metres from where they stood and, moving quickly, the two men strode briskly across the gravel, dust lifting with their desert boots and blowing ahead of them. Rounding the curve, the river bed widened to several hundred metres over several kilometres in length. On the far side against the rearing wall of black twisted rock, the missing man was on his knees carefully brushing sand from something in front of him. What the Hell! Blackbeard exclaimed, What’s he doing? . . . We have to get moving soon.

The young man looked up and, seeing them crossing the river bed waved his arm excitedly, motioning them to join him. Minutes later the two men stood looking down at a partially exposed body of a small adult or teenager. Mummified in the hot dry air, the facial skin was pulled tight over the skull and the lips were pulled back in a snarling rictus that exposed the teeth. The skin had blackened, so that determination of race was impossible. The kneeling man was carefully brushing sand from the corpse and now the shoulders and neck were exposed.

Jesus! Blackbeard exhaled explosively, What happened here?

I was looking for the core boxes along the cliff edge and heard a funny noise in this area, so I walked along and tripped over the head . . . it was partially exposed.

Noise . . . What d’you mean noise . . . what the hell are you talking about . . . ? Blackbeard was obviously rattled by the gruesome discovery.

Sorry Wessel, but it sounded like someone moaning, someone in trouble . . . it stopped when I fell over the corpse.

Listen! Johnny stood stock still and faintly they all heard a soft moan rising steadily in tempo abruptly ending in a series of chuffing grunts. Johnny spun wide eyed in fear and began to run back towards the Unimog.

Stop! . . . Goddamn it Johnny, it’s only the wind . . . . The blackbearded giant that the younger man had addressed as Wessel flung out a massive arm and grabbed a handful of shirt. Don’t panic . . . I’ve heard this sound before, it’s the wind around the rock formations . . . remember the talking sands of the Kalahari? The big black man relaxed slightly. By nature he was not a nervous man, but this canyon summoned up race memories from times primeval and, with a body lying a few feet away, he needed every ounce of discipline to stay.

Look . . . . Wessel asserted his authority as leader. We don’t have much time before we must start back. Looking up at the canyon walls already inky black on the shaded side as the sun sank lower, he made several quick decisions. Johnny, go back to the Unimog and drive it over here. I’ll help Ivan clear the sand off the body. Then we will look for ID and take some photographs with the Polaroid. He paused, rubbing his beard absentmindedly, Technically we should leave the body in place until the police have been informed but now that it has been exposed there is always the chance that a stray jackal could find it and damage it. We will take the body back with us on top of the core boxes and wrap it in the tarpaulin. He stared at the two men who seemed reluctant. OK . . . Let’s get a move on . . . move, move.

Chapter 2

Namib Desert - Ivan

David Mornay slammed the pickup door shut. Anger choked him. He pushed the glass-fronted swing doors to the main administration offices open. He bumped aside and ignored the startled looks on the faces of two personnel officers in their neat lightweight suits who were about to enter the door ahead of him. Blood pounded in his ears, and he felt an awful tightness in his chest. Nineteen, the poor little bastard was only nineteen. He could still see the agonized eyes and hear the dying whistle through the shattered chest. David’s khaki trousers tucked into desert boots were splotched with drying patches of blood and a large stain on his shirt marked where young Kretchmer’s head had lain.

Turning the corner to Waldron’s office, he collided sharply with a woman, knocking files out of her hands and pushing her into the partition wall. I’m sorry, are you all right? He gripped her arm for a second, then unseeing and ignoring the scattered papers on the floor, he stormed down the passage. Waldron’s secretary, Rita, rose with a surprised gasp as he strode past her and reached for the handle to Waldron’s office door.

Mr. Mornay, what is . . . but David was past her and into Waldron’s office before the sentence was complete.

Peter Waldron’s office was situated on a corner of the east wing of the administration block, giving it an even better view from its large windows than that of the general manager. A visitor unfamiliar with the mine could be forgiven for thinking that this was, in fact, the office of the general manager. The floor covering was a pale grey carpet that spread smoothly from wall to wall. The walls were a tasteful match of blues and greys which set off a large Pernief print on one of the two walls not covered in smoked glass. The airconditioner hummed softly and the half-closed venetian blinds gave the room an air of luxurious calm in contrast to the heat and dust outside. Waldron sat behind a large, modern and very expensive desk working on a document and looked up in amazement as David stormed in. He opened his mouth to protest. Even the construction manager should knock before entering the office of the head of human resources. David slammed the door viciously.

You cruddy little son of a bitch. David drew air into his lungs in a shuddering gasp. Waldron sat in his leather swivel chair, both hands gripping the padded arms, his mouth open in silent shock.

One of my men has just died in the pit. David leaned over the desk, both hands gripping the curved edge until his knuckles went white. First aid tell me that you cancelled my requisition for an extra paramedic. Is that correct?

Waldron found his voice. David, our manpower schedules don’t call for extra staff in the first aid department until May; there are other departmental needs you know.

David Mornay was a big man but now he seemed to engulf the room and Waldron shrank back in real fear. David’s voice dropped to a horrified whisper. You’re telling me that you cancelled a priority requisition given to you over three months ago because it didn’t fit your pretty little charts and schedules? He shook his head in stupefaction, as if to clear it. Young Ivan Kretschmer has just died of his injuries in the pit because the only trained paramedic on this plant was busy on a minor injury in the Ovambo camp and took over an hour to get to the scene. Now you tell me that you took it upon yourself to cancel a flagged requisition.

Look David, among other items, I discussed the manpower needs with the general manager and . . . . But before he could continue, David shot out both hands, grabbing a handful of Waldron’s white linen shirt, crushing his expensive silk tie and wrenching him out of the seat. He dragged Waldron over the desk so that his face was held inches from David’s own. He shook Waldron viciously back and forth like a rag doll.

You bloody little clown, he shouted. You discussed it with the GM, you discussed it with the GM . . . Who the hell gave you the authority to discuss my requisitions with the GM . . . your job is to carry out my instructions. In his rage David was unaware that the office door behind him had opened and a huge bearded man in dirt-stained khakis stood framed in the opening.

Wessel van der Walt flung both his arms around David from behind. Dave, please leave him, it’s not worth it, please Dave . . . The huge Afrikaner’s voice was hoarse. He had followed Dave Mornay’s trail up from the first aid post where the body of young Ivan Kretschmer lay still under a blood-soaked sheet. Wessel had made a wrong turn and lost vital seconds in his attempt to stop his chief from tearing the head of human resources apart.

David surfaced from his rage. Strong as he was, he knew he could never break the iron grip circling his chest. He let Waldron go. The shaken director of human resources, his fat face shiny with sweat, slid limply back into his chair. OK Wessel, it’s all right. The strong arms relaxed slightly.

You’re sure now Dave, you won’t grab him again?

David nodded, Yes . . . no . . . let me go. Bile acid in the back of his throat threatened to choke him. He stared down at Peter Waldron. I’m going to have your job for this Waldron, I don’t give a damn how many managers you suck up to. He paused as if to continue, then without another word he turned, brushed past Wessel and stepped out of the office into the passageway. A knot of office staff had gathered around Rita’s desk, drawn by the commotion, and they parted hurriedly to let David through. He paused briefly, nausea rising in his throat as the adrenaline surge faded and he clenched his hands to stop them shaking. It was always like this afterwards, the shakes always started when all the action was over. David felt cold sweat breaking out on his face and forehead. The woman in the white lab coat whose files he had scattered was still standing where he had left her. She had been waiting for him, her eyes set and cold.

Do you normally rush around knocking people over? The top of her head was barely up to his chin. Her eyes glared up at him. Well do you?

What? Her face disappeared and he shut his eyes to stop the wall from swaying.

I said do you . . . . Her voice paused. Are you all right? For the first time she noticed his pallid complexion and the blood drying on his clothes, You are hurt!

No. Sorry, I . . . Blindly he stumbled past her through the main doors into the harsh sunlight. He found his pickup and rested his head against the glass of his side window as another wave of nausea surged. He could hear the rumble of Wessel’s voice behind him talking to the woman, their indistinct voices muffled by the singing in his ears. They must have followed him outside. He stood oblivious to everything, both hands gripping the half-open door. The nausea slowly subsided and perspiration ran down his temples. The slight afternoon breeze cooled him, his shirt sticking clammily to his back.

Dave, let me drive. Wessel’s huge bearded face showed concern.

No, . . . It’s over . . . .Thanks Wessel, just a reaction that’s all . . . . Meet me back at my office. He wiped his face with a faded handkerchief. I’ll have to go and see Mr. and Mrs. Kretschmer. Go back inside and tell those useless bastards in there not to phone, it’s the stupid sort of thing they’re capable of . . . Oh dear God Wessel . . . he was an only child.

Easy Dave, easy now. The big hand gripped his shoulder with enough force to make him wince. Perhaps it would be better for me to go. He was in one of my crews after all.

David looked up and Wessel saw the emptiness in the normally cool grey eyes. He knew David had seen death before, and that he had fought in Vietnam, but a deeper demon had flayed David’s soul this time, causing him to lose the crisp control he normally displayed under pressure.

Thanks Wessel but it’s my responsibility. I’ll have to go home and change. Will you look after . . . ?

Of course. Wessel spoke gently. Dave, Ivan was badly crushed, even if the medic had come right away I don’t think he’d have lived. You mustn’t blame . . . His voice trailed away. Drive carefully.

Wessel, will you tell survey to draw up a plan of the accident scene for the inspector of mines. There’ll be an inquiry. Have Gariseb take a roll of Polaroid pictures of the scene. I have a record of the times. He reversed in a swirl of soft powdery dust and bumped down the gravel road between the engineering and administration blocks. Wessel stood for a long moment watching the pickup truck accelerate toward the main gate and the highway into Swakopmund, before sighing deeply and walking back into the administration block.

Chapter 3

Canada – Barkley Sound, Vancouver Island

Water ran down his neck, curling under the collar of his rain jacket. The leaden, angry sky matched his mood and he stabbed savagely at the sea with his paddle.

Watch it Dickhead! What the hell do you think you’re doing Colin? The bloody canoe is going in circles. Brian Talbot’s voice was sharp with anger.

Colin Mornay craned his head round to peer at the youth sitting behind him. Even if Brian Talbot was 16 years old, his senior by a year and supposed to be his best friend he was damned if he was going to let the comment pass. The events of the afternoon still rankled and he snapped back. Dickhead yourself, if you’re so bloody good why don’t you paddle all on your own.

Listen Colin, if you want to indulge yourself, do it on land. If we flip over here because you’ve got your knickers in a knot we’ll both probably drown before the others realise how far behind them we are.

Angrily, Colin started to reply, then choked as a lump of seawater, whipped by the rising wind, splashed over the side of the two-man canoe into his face and open mouth. Coughing violently, he dropped the paddle that floated away until stopped by the tethering cord.

For fuck’s sake Colin, watch out! We’re going to broach . . . help me turn, move . . . move!

Startled by the raw fear in Brian’s voice, Colin yanked his paddle back and dug the wide blade deep into the chop that threatened to flood their frail canoe. Panting with exertion, the two boys turned the curved nose of the canoe into the wind and the direction the other members of their party had gone. Neither boy spoke again until 20 minutes later when, through the gathering sea fog, they saw lights flashing in their direction from the shore of Diana Island.

Hallelujah! Brian muttered under his breath, Bruma’s going to have our balls for this.

Colin snorted in disgust, You’re afraid of your own bloody shadow Brian. Try to remember that he’s a teacher and needs the job more than we need him.

You know, Colin, there are times when you’re more than just an obnoxious prick. Like right now, when you’re a stupid, obnoxious prick. Bruma’s an expert sailor. He warned us to stay close, that the wind could get up.

We’re here . . . aren’t we? What the hell are you panicking for? Admit it . . . a little excitement makes life worth living . . . so I goofed off a little . . . it’s not the end of the world. Colin grinned over his shoulder. Brian Talbot was his best friend and he realised that today he might have gone too far.

Brian Talbot stared at the stocky figure kneeling in front of him. He bit back a sharp retort. The contract with Mornay Industries was very important to his father’s company and he didn’t want to jeopardise anything for the father he adored.

Brian Talbot’s father had come up the hard way. When the Talbot family fortune had been lost through bad investments his father was 14 years old. Forced to leave his exclusive prep school and find work, Les Talbot became a logger in the days before new technology and improved equipment removed a large part of the danger from a still-dangerous industry. Les had lost his right arm to a steel cable that whipped back after tearing loose from a huge cedar. Not one to whine at the vagaries of fortune, Les Talbot took the compensation money and bought his first logging truck. Slowly, with many setbacks, the indomitable logger built up his fleet of logging trucks, then diversified into mining equipment. His company now had branches world wide. Determined that his son was going to have the education he’d been denied, he sent Brian to the most expensive prep school in Victoria. Brian was not academically gifted but, by dint of hard work, he managed to keep a respectable B-minus average.

However, he excelled at most sports and was the school’s leading athlete. Enormously proud of his son’s achievements, Les was even more pleased when Brian and Colin Mornay struck up a friendship. It